I got a letter today from an old friend. Recently, I sent her the letters she wrote me when we were in college. Back then we kept up a constant stream, and aside from the fluctuations of individual happiness, we were on the same page. Full of dreams and wanting to get away from our too cozy, too blah suburban lives. Interested in finding men to marry, and thinking hard about what qualities in the males we knew were good ones. Trying to imagine forging careers and wondering how and where, thinking about little apartments in Manhattan, and so on.
My friend is now compiling the story of her life, with the help of a hired writer, which is why she asked for her letters. Naturally I reread them before I sent them, and I found them very artistic. Leaves pasted falling down the page. Envelopes typed on the diagonal. Fun stuff similar to what some of the guys I knew in comics fandom did with their letters to me. We all were experimenting with form and function back then, but she was the most creative person I knew.
I also was very moved by these old letters so full of youth and hope, so full of dreams. I expected my friend, with whom I have maintained a very distant once-a-year correspondence for the last 30 years or so, to be similarly moved by seeing and reading those artifacts of our youth. When I first knew her, she was very articulate, intellectual. In the intervening years, we both have had full lives, including personal tragedies. And we have shared at least some of them with each other. But the letter I received today from her was completely mundane; it talked about surface news like the next grandchild and the most recent trip. She said nothing about what really mattered to her. What does she feel about having her life story written? How much of the truth is she planning to tell and why? Who does she want to read her tale? She tells me nothing about this, as if she no longer has the intellectual ability to consider or articulate such concerns. Or she simply does not want to tell me about them.
We had so much, 44 years ago. But life took us down different, difficult paths. And now we only have the empty container of a friendship, because she won’t open up. Am I wrong to expect her to? This is not my only 44-year-old friendship. With the others, we can sit down for five minutes and we’re on the same page intellectually, even though we live our daily lives very differently and see each other once in a blue moon.
And so much of life is how others view us. While there are many people who can justifiably look back at their lives and say they have accomplished much, there are many others with ambition or potential that still is not fulfilled. The achievements along the way are not enough, so we strive on. But to others looking at us, our lives seem glamorous, successful, worthy of corrosive envy, even. How much fame is enough to feel famous, as opposed to being admired by friends for being famous? When does the hollow feeling go away, and why doesn’t an old good friend know about that hollow feeling?
I feel flattened by this letter. My old friend lives 400 miles from me, but writes in the letter that she was recently only 100 miles away or less. But she does not suggest that she even considered coming to see me. Does she not have the intelligence to see how this information has the power to hurt me? She used to. I could blame this all on her boyfriend, who may not be interested in taking a detour on a long drive, but that would be too easy. And that leaves the letter itself, written by her, saying nothing about the past, nothing about the present, and nothing about a future in which we have anything of value to say to each other.